Skip to content
Sep 10 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 7, 2014 – Ephesians 1:1-3

An Exploration of Christian Spirituality

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ . . . Ephesians 1:1-3

Intro: Before dipping into Ephesians, let’s remember why we’re sitting here this morning

Why we chose Reflexion
– you probably drove past a number of churches to get here
• but you did not come for the excellent and enthusiastic singing
◦ as Jim said a few weeks ago, there’s nothing entertaining here
• it has nothing to do with the typical features that churches offer their members
– the only reason (other than if you were dragged here or walked in by mistake) is that you have a hunger for God
• this hunger is a unique desire; it cannot be satisfied by:
◦ Bible studies or busying ourselves with good deeds
◦ administrating or participating in religious programs
◦ theology or supernatural miracles
• these things may meet some of our human needs, but not our deepest spiritual longing, which is for God himself

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God . . . Ps. 42:1-2

We want God in the ways he presented himself to people in scripture
– we expect God’s self-revelation to become a layer of our own lived experience
• this does not mean we all hunger for the same sort of encounter with God
◦ some people want a spectacular experience–God manifest in visions or his other-worldly glory
◦ others desire a non-spectacular encounter–nothing more than eyes to  see and ears to hear
◦ they desire greater sensitivity to what is already here and to discern the “still small voice”
• but we all share the desire for something real
◦ not imaginary, purely cerebral, or manufactured and controlled by other humans
– plain and simple, we want the Christian experience of God
• the core experience of Jesus Christ around which New Testament churches were formed
• the promise of the Scriptures

You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

There’s no question Paul’s letters contain theology

But it’s important to be clear that his was an experiential theology
– we do not only test experience by theology, but we must test theology by experience
• does it “work”? Does it bear fruit? Can it be lived?
– Paul did not meet God by way of religious teaching or practice, but through an encounter
• afterward, his life and ministry were constantly directed through encounters with Jesus and God’s Spirit
• but even after a wildly mystical vision, Paul kept his feet on the ground
◦ God made sure of that (2 Cor. 12:7)

Albert Schweitzer observed that Paul “has not the usual mentality of a mystic. The exoteric and the esoteric go hand in hand.” According to Schweitzer, typically if a mystic tolerates traditional theological statements and formulations, “he nevertheless constantly endeavors to illuminate this exoteric material with the penetrating light of mysticism and to show it up clearly in its inadequate relativity. But Paul’s mysticism behaves quite differently. It shows no hesitation in allowing non-mystical views of redemption to take their place alongside of it as having equal right to expression.”

◦ in Paul we do not find any tension between the rational and mystical
rather they work together and build on one another

Paul assumed that those people he introduced to God and instructed would also experience Jesus Christ
• perhaps not in as dramatic an encounter as his own, but just as real–and powerful
• if lose sight of this we will misunderstand much of what Paul says in his letters

So we turn to Ephesians where Paul explores and explains the essence of Christian Spirituality
– if we bring our hunger for God to this important letter, we will at least get a taste of his goodness

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus . . .”

“Apostle” refers to a specific position in the church as it expanded and developed (Ep. 3:5; 4:11)
– it was not a profession, but a vocation (calling)
• that is why he adds, “by the will of God”
• in fact, God’s will is an important theme in what immediately follows (vv. 5, 9 & 11)

“Unlike other rabbis, Jesus hand picked his inner circle of disciples, rather than letting them choose him.” (Phil Yancey)
– Jesus told his disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (Jn. 15:16)
• we will want to remember God’s hand in who we become in Christ as we move forward in this chapter

Apostles were called, prepared and sent by God
– their work was to open the hearts and minds of others to God
– they came with authority–yet Paul did not see that as grounds for conceit

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor . . . we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. (1 Co. 4:9-13)

• in fact, he was just as comfortable introducing himself as “Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus” as he was an apostle (3:1)

“To the saints”

Paul is not thinking of a saint as someone who has achieved perfection in every Christian virtue
– it is what people become when they live in relationship with God
• the same word is translated “holy” in verse 4 (“that we would be holy”)
• we tend to think that holy is a moral term but it is, in fact, relational
◦ anything dedicated to God becomes holy by virtue of its connection with him
(the Sabbath as a holy day, the temple, etc.)
– the people addressed in this letter were not morally perfect or even exceptionally godly
• among other instructions Paul gives them, he has to tell them, “He who steals must steal no longer” (4:28; cf. 5:3)
• this is the wonder of the gospel, God takes ordinary people into relationship with himself

“Grace to you and peace” – this is a formal greeting that combines Greek and Hebrew traditions
– yet it is not only a formal greeting — it is a way for Paul to speak these qualities into the lives of his readers
• grace is always an undeserved gift – it fills the space between where we are and where we could be in Christ
◦ grace is threaded through this chapter and to the last verse of this letter
• peace is what is represented by the Hebrew word shalom – total well-being (physically, socially, spiritually, etc.)
– we will need both grace and to continue this journey
• grace will make real God’s work in our lives and enable us to walk in this new life with him
• we constantly need to return to peace — to pause, breathe and allow God’s Spirit to bear his fruit in us
◦ as we face the challenges that come to us, let’s remember to say to ourselves, “God is with me. This is doable”

One more noteworthy feature of these first two verses
– the recurrence “Christ Jesus . . . Christ Jesus . . . the Lord Jesus Christ”
• almost every statement in the next passage includes “in Christ,” “in Him,” or “in the Beloved”
• Christian spirituality is totally Jesus-oriented

Verses 3-14 form one long, complicated and confusing sentence

We have moments when we see the direction Paul’s idea is going, then it circles back on itself
– this happens several times and is indicated by the repetition of specific words and phrases
• these verses do not easily lend themselves to a logical outline
– I believe there are two reasons for this:

  1. Paul’s difficulty in putting all this spiritual insight into words
    – in 2 Corinthians, Paul describes being “caught up into Paradise” where he “heard inexpressible words” (12:4)
    • how can he translate that sort of knowledge into meaningful words?
    Skevington Wood, “ . . . in Ephesians he attempts to recapture the content of that or a similar vision.”
  2. Paul may have found it necessary to stump the intellect of his reader
    – we will be exposed to mystery and we need to accept it (Ep. 3:3-4; 6:19)
    Thomas Merton, “He who thinks he knows what it is beforehand prevents himself from finding out the true nature of contemplation.”

With a sentence like this, there’s no good place to break

V. 3, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us . . .

The starting point of Christian spirituality is blessing (as in the Sermon On the Mount, Mt. 5:3)
– this path entails a turn toward the spiritual (“spiritual blessings”)
• in the Old Testament the blessing was largely conceived as material (health, fertility, prosperity, etc.)
• this is probably an indicator as to how we should interpret “heavenly places”
◦ translators add “places” for clarification — location is definitely intended here (cf. Col. 3:1-2)
◦ some commentators translate this, “the heavenlies,” but what does that mean?
– what Paul is working on here is our reorientation
• we have a heavenly Father, liven in his heavenly kingdom – have a heavenly calling
• in John’s gospel, the heavenly stands over against the earthly (Jn. 3:12)
◦ Paul awakens us to spiritual blessings and heavenly connections, freeing us from earthly attachments

Discovering the spiritual blessings–and the spiritual aspect of every blessing–is eye-opening
– eventually we learn to discern the transcendent in the objects of our normal sense perception
• Fr. Romuald once told me, “Everything is a door”–every blade of grass, every grain of sand
• God can awaken us to his presence in the here and now through anything
– our natural physical and intellectual approach to new ideas won’t work here
• we will learn a new way to see, hear, and understand (e.g., Ep. 1:17-18)

Conc: What this letter tells us:

We don’t have to postpone fulfilling our desire for God until we achieve perfect sainthood – that won’t happen
– or until our lives are trouble-free – that won’t happen either (there will always be something)
• but the life of God that we find in Jesus Christ is available to us now
• it is the essence of our daily lives and not something that is merely added to them
◦ Christian spirituality takes into itself all of our normal experiences
◦ it brings us into the face to face experience of God,
where our thirst is quenched and our soul finds fullness of joy (John 7:37-39; 15:11; 17:13)

Leave a comment